Geopolitical Insights

Academy SITREP – Russia Threatens Shipping in the Black Sea

July 21, 2023
What has Happened: • Earlier this week, Russia “terminated” the Black Sea grain deal that had allowed Ukraine to export food crops to alleviate the global food shortage following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. • In addition, Russia re-established its blockade and stepped up its air strikes on Ukrainian ports where an attack on Chornomorsk destroyed 60,000 tons of grain (enough to feed more than 270,000 people). • In a further escalation of tensions, Russia’s Ministry of Defense warned ship operators “that any attempt to bypass the blockade might be seen as an act of war.” • Today, Russia conducted live fire anti-ship missile drills in the region that were designed to rehearse attacks on shipping and placed mines in the waters around Ukrainian ports. • National Security Council spokesman Adam Hodge said that “we believe that this is a coordinated effort to justify any attacks against civilian ships in the Black Sea and lay blame on Ukraine for these attacks.” • While Ukraine can still transport its grain and other products via road and rail into adjacent European countries, this option is more expensive/time consuming and the hope is that China or Turkey (both large importers of grain) could help pressure President Putin to re-enter the deal.

Why it Matters: “Putin’s attacks on Ukrainian grain storage facilities in Odessa along with threatening to attack commercial ships transporting Ukraine’s grain through the Black Sea is yet another failure of his war strategy and diplomacy. He tried to use grain as a weapon earlier in the war and it backfired as he lost support throughout the world. He eventually backed off with a deal. He is now in worse shape and is playing the same card again. Africa is already suffering from drought and food shortages and Putin will alienate some of those countries that are still in his corner or neutral. He is also angry with his perceived friend President Erdogan of Turkey for conceding to allow Sweden into NATO. Erdogan was at the center of brokering the first grain shipment deal. I expect Erdogan to take this opportunity to jump back on the world stage and act as the intermediator. The U.S. needs to leverage Russia’s total war approach to paint Putin as the bad guy and call out Xi Jinping for not speaking out against Putin’s brutal actions.” – General Robert Walsh

“Erdogan may be trying, but I don’t see much success. Russia didn’t get what it hoped for in the grain deal and is likely upset at Erdogan for approving Finland’s and Sweden’s entry into NATO. Turkey was also the first nation to send dual-purpose improved conventional munition (DPICM) rounds to Ukraine and recently stated that they support Ukraine’s entry into NATO.” – General Frank Kearney